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The Weekend Australian - Review - - Cover Story - Mother Courage and Her Chil­dren

up to the board of el­ders and they would have to­tal veto power.’’ IN the re­hearsal room Yovich climbs around the shell of her cart, fash­ioned from a rusty ute, as she prac­tises her part. She speaks the lines of her char­ac­ter with re­solve: ‘‘ My kids were so hun­gry that I drove straight through the mid­dle of the bat­tle­fields of Kalka­doon, Mount Isa, with 50 loaves of mouldy bread to sell to the en­emy.’’

Last year, Yovich an­nounced she had quit play­ing Abo­rig­i­nal roles be­cause she was tired of be­ing type­cast be­cause of her race. She had just fin­ished per­form­ing in Stephen Page’s Blood­land, a play about dys­func­tion and grief in an Abo­rig­i­nal com­mu­nity.

‘‘ It’s not that I don’t want to do Abo­rig­i­nal roles; it’s who I am,’’ Yovich says. ‘‘ But to con­tinue do­ing the stereo­typ­i­cal roles can be quite dif­fi­cult. Psy­cho­log­i­cally you start to think: is that all peo­ple see me as?’’

She agreed to star in Mother Courage be­cause she feels the moral am­bi­gu­ity around min­ing is an im­por­tant is­sue for Aus­tralia. ‘‘ As much as there are times when I say I re­ally don’t want to do any more Abo­rig­i­nal plays, I un­der­stand there are a lot of sto­ries out there that still need to be told,’’ she says.

Mother Courage and The Shadow King de­lib­er­ately rely on all-in­dige­nous casts. ‘‘ It’s in­ten­tional colour cast­ing,’’ Kan­tor says.

At Malt­house late last month, a group of Abo­rig­i­nal ac­tors — in­clud­ing Rar­ri­wuy Hick, Dja­mangi Gayka­mangu and Frances Djuli­b­ing — were left stand­ing out­side the theatre when taxi driv­ers re­fused to pick them up. A flood of let­ters and emails declar­ing out­rage and sup­port were sent to the theatre af­ter the in­ci­dent. Some peo­ple even of­fered to drive the ac­tors to and from the Malt­house.

‘‘ Un­for­tu­nately, (the in­ci­dent) is not that un­be­liev­able,’’ Kan­tor says. ‘‘ It’s an ex­pe­ri­ence that’s been shared by a lot of in­dige­nous peo­ple in Melbourne. The taxi in­dus­try has some soul search­ing to do.’’

The ac­tors had been in Melbourne to work­shop The Shadow King, Kan­tor’s adap­ta­tion of Shake­speare’s play with Lewis, a Kather­ine-based ac­tor who starred in the 1978 film The Chant of Jim­mie Black­smith. The pair have adapted the play into plain English and Kriol, leav­ing just five lines of the orig­i­nal text in­tact. Cast mem­bers will also speak in their own lan­guages dur­ing the play.

Kan­tor and Lewis started work­ing on the play sev­eral years ago af­ter agree­ing Lear was ripe for an in­dige­nous telling be­cause it is es­sen­tially about land.

‘‘ We call upon the hur­ri­canes and winds of Lear’s fight with the storms and na­ture as much as in­dige­nous peo­ple call on their con­ver­sa­tions with the land, the birds and their an­ces­tors,’’ Kan­tor says. ‘‘ Lear is about who can have the hubris and au­dac­ity to claim they own the land. It’s the an­tithe­sis of how in­dige­nous peo­ple think of the land: the land is not some­thing that can be owned, the land owns them.’’

The adap­ta­tion leaves the story-line in­tact but, as in Mother Courage, it will ex­plore moral is­sues around min­ing through aes­thetic ele­ments. Set in north­ern Aus­tralia, the story will un­fold on a stage cov­ered in red earth with a large steel ma­chine-like struc­ture as the cen­tral prop.

Lewis, who will wear the crown, says the pro­duc­tion will ‘‘ paint the story of coun­try’’ while fol­low­ing the broad con­tours of Shake­speare’s orig­i­nal story. Ul­ti­mately, he says the play is a cul­tural ex­change. ‘‘ Lan­guages should be like flow­ers,’’ he says. ‘‘ It trains our mob, on ei­ther side, to un­der­stand theatre more.’’

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